Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#90, June 6, 2000


by Marylaine Block

On a daily basis we hear politicians railing against all the "faceless bureaucrats" and "paper pushers" and "bean counters" our taxes are supporting -- people too lazy to get real jobs, who enjoy harassing harmless citizens for a living. Naturally, I started wondering who they were.

Certainly not my letter carrier. I know him, and he knows me. Certainly not the guides in the national parks. When a friend visited Big Bend out of season, the lonely park ranger was thrilled to see him, because much as he loved the park, he loved sharing it with visitors even more.

These politicians can't be talking about Americorps volunteers who are rebuilding city parks and working with schools and youth groups, or the Coast Guard, rescuers of hapless souls lost at sea, or the "Go teams" of the National Transportation Safety Board who investigate plane and train disasters. They can't mean the head of the National Hurricane Center, either, who will be on the nightly news soon, charting the path of approaching hurricanes.

They can't mean the folks from the Federal Emergency Management Administration who, money in hand, descended on my home, Davenport, Iowa, when it unwillingly became part of the Mississippi River. They can't be talking about our friends and neighbors who operate the Mississippi's locks and dams, or the men and women who fight forest fires. Smudge-covered, yes; faceless, not by a long shot.

As for paper pushers -- well, the people who get loans from the Veteran's Administration or the Small Business Administration want that paper pushed. So do Social Security recipients. If the mapmakers at the U.S. Geological Survey are paper-pushers, it's paperwork we use all the time, especially now that the mapping is available electronically.

Are the people who preserve our heritage, at the Library of Congress, Smithsonian and the National Archives paper-pushers? The FBI employees who maintain their enormous fingerprint file? The folks at the Federal Parent Locator Service? The people at the National Library of Medicine who index medical journals and health information for laypersons? The people who print Braille books for the blind?

And which bean-counters does Congress have problems with? The census-takers? Every one of their questions is authorized by Congress, and though they may sometimes seem intrusive, the answers are the basis for millions of business decisions made every day: where to locate, whether to expand, where to target advertising…

Are epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control "bean-counters" when they track the incidence of injury and disease, notice burgeoning epidemics and new diseases, and search for their causes and cures?

How about the statisticians who track the money supply, imports and exports, interest rates, salaries and wages, and all the other basic data required to assess our national economic health?

Are we talking about accountants at the General Accounting Office, who analyze government programs to see if they're working -- you know, the ones who told Congress in 1984 that the savings and loan industry was dangerously insolvent, a good five years before Congress did anything about it?

Congress can't possibly mean the folks who process their own paychecks (which they want to increase from merely excessive to obscene).

What do politicians have against civil servants? That they make mistakes? Of course they do, and some of them, like the fire at Los Alamos, are doozies. That they're inefficient? Politicians think private industry would do it better.

Are they thinking of the fabulously efficient people who lose our baggage, refuse payment for our emergency room visits, keep us on hold for hours waiting for technical support, and mislay our invoices for months on end? Or the folks who efficiently conduct telemarketing scams and phony sweepstakes, and swindle the elderly out of their homes and life savings?

Yes, there are some jerks on the government payroll (Congress could find some of them by looking in the mirror). There are some government employees who arrive late and leave early (ever noticed that Congress hardly ever does business on Mondays and Fridays?).

But most people earning a government check are putting in an honest day's work doing jobs we want them to do. They don't deserve to be bad-mouthed -- especially by tax-supported politicians.

Read the rest of
these columns

home to all my
other writing